Dragon Age: Inquisition review: by faith alone

Game Info
Platform 360, PS3, Win, PS4, Xbox One
Publisher Electronic Arts
Developer BioWare
Release Date Nov 18, 2014

Dragon Age: Inquisition is a game of extraordinarily rare scope.

The previous two releases in the series — Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age 2 — had choices that carried over from one to the next, but they presented relatively stand-alone stories. Their tales of heroism were roped off to single small corners of a fantasy world whose full size was only hinted at.

Dragon Age: Inquisition is the first true realization of that world. The missions and consequences of them span the whole of the known lands of Dragon Age. Likewise, many plot points and characters return from previous games.

Though it was never sold this way, Inquisition feels like part of a more tightly connected story, like a finale that ties up many of the plot threads previously left hanging. It is at once the culmination of everything Dragon Age has been attempting to accomplish for the last five years and a guarantee that this universe is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Dragon Age: Inquisition picks up after the events of Dragon Age 2, where the tumultuous relationship between mages and Templars boiled over into a full-on mage rebellion. At the beginning of Inquisition, talks toward a peace treaty are interrupted by a magical explosion, leaving a sole survivor: the player-created main character, who will become known as the Inquisitor.

The core of the game's story is taken up by solving the mysteries introduced in this climactic opening event. Why did you survive when no one else did? Who caused the explosion? Why has it left a hole floating in the sky giving demons easy access to the realm of men? The answers to these questions prove more engrossing and more world-changing than anything from the first two games.

But in true BioWare fashion, that broader story often takes a back seat to smaller character conflicts. The Inquisitor pulls together a huge group of followers, including nine playable party members, and each has reams of dialogue conveying a fully developed personality.

While I had my personal favorites, there really isn't a weak character in the bunch this time around. From the snarky dwarven crossbow expert Varric (a returning character from Dragon Age 2) to deadpan mercenary Iron Bull (voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr.!) to the immature, butt-obsessed elven rogue Sera, I was pushed to spend time with and get to know every single party member.

Their depth is reflected in how much I grew to respect even my least-liked companions. I often found myself changing directions based on their thoughts. If Solas — the driest character in my crew — suggested I approach a situation involving magic in a different way than I intended, I would listen to him more often than not.

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Those party members also offer plenty of side quests, which sent me out into the world at large. Rather than a full "open world," Dragon Age: Inquisition is made up of numerous zones that I could teleport between at will. However, each of those zones is gigantic in and of itself. In the 80 hours I spent playing Inquisition, I only fully completed two zones, and each of them took me around 20 hours of exploration, questing and monster-bashing.

Inquisition's plot is more engrossing and more world-changing than anything from the first two games
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PlayStation problems

Most of my time with Dragon Age: Inquisition was spent on the PlayStation 4 version. Despite my high praise for the game's content, I encountered some frustrating bugs that are hard to ignore.

Notably, the PS4 version of Inquisition frequently froze, locking up the entire system and requiring a full reboot. In a few instances, this reboot process led to corrupted save files. According to representatives from EA, this issue is related to Sony's PS4 2.0 firmware, which has caused problems for other games on the console as well.

Near the end of the review process, Sony sent Polygon a PS4 that had an upcoming patch pre-installed, ostensibly fixing the 2.0 problems. We played approximately 15 hours on this patched PS4 and did not experience any crashes. EA says this new PSN patch will be released prior to Dragon Age: Inquisition's release date.

Beyond the hopefully fixed crashes, I experienced a bevy of other small bugs in Dragon Age: Inquisition, such as dialogue refusing to progress until I hit the skip button or characters and clothing clipping into each other during cinematic cutscenes. The most hilariously annoying bug I stumbled across caused my Inquisitor's voice to change 50 hours into the game. Thankfully, I found a solution.

EA has provided Polygon a list of bug fixes coming to Inquisition in a day-one patch, including many of the bugs mentioned here. While none of these problems were big enough to greatly impact my enjoyment of the game, we'll continue checking in to see how much the patch helps and if new issues are introduced. In the meantime, we're going to withhold our score for the PlayStation 4 version of Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Inquisition's smart blend of the combat systems from Origins and Dragon Age 2 makes those long stretches exploring the wilderness fun. The real-time, action-lite combat allows you to auto-attack by holding down a trigger or use specific spells and abilities with the face buttons. If you need more time to plan your attacks, you can pause the fight at any moment, pull the camera back and begin issuing commands to everyone in your party one by one.

Dragon Age: Inquisition finds the best of both worlds with this system. If you want to chill out and beat up bad guys without thinking much, you can pop the difficulty down to normal or casual and breeze through with the more action-oriented play style. If you'd prefer more challenging, strategically satisfying encounters, the hard and nightmare difficulty settings all but require you to use the paused tactical combat at all times. Personally, I played on normal and swapped between the two depending on my mood — or the size of the enemy I was facing during any given session.

The huge zones are also boosted by an increased sense of exploration, something that was minimized in Origins and all but nonexistent in Dragon Age 2. Inquisition's more eager approach to exploration can be summed up in one new mechanic: You can jump!

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This seemingly small addition cracks open the Dragon Age gameplay loop in unexpected ways. Navigation itself becomes part of the gameplay here, whether it's figuring out how to scale a steep mountainside to reach the treasure chest you can see on top or tracking down fallen magical shards scattered across the hills and valleys of the area to open a secret temple door.

I couldn't walk more than a dozen seconds in any direction in any zone without stumbling across some new distraction. The game provides a great rhythm of exploring, fighting, completing quest objectives.

What really sets Dragon Age: Inquisition apart from the average BioWare game, though, is the sheer size of your group of followers. You're not pulling together a simple band of adventurers out to save the world; you're founding a faction with its own hierarchy and its own goals, an army of hundreds of people that will affect the lives of thousands more.

In gameplay terms, this means you have greater worries than just outfitting and leveling up your party. You do that as well, of course, but in between excursions outside of your base, you can fill requisitions to improve the size and strength of your army. You can also send your advisors — a group of three non-player characters out into the world to handle situations for you in real time. These generally lead to big rewards and often deeper bits of plot and lore that hardcore Dragon Age fans will want to gather.

Having these issues play out in real time may seem frustrating, but I ended up liking it. A small skirmish could take 15 minutes for your military advisor to resolve, while a more delicate contractual dispute in an Orlesian court could take your diplomatic ambassador 16 hours to remedy. These missions continue progressing even when the game is turned off, however. So even when I found the longest missions intimidating, it was great to turn on the game the next day and have a reward immediately waiting.

I had to navigate tense alliances, delicate truces and powerful prejudices
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dungeon crawl

In addition to the lengthy single-player, Dragon Age: Inquisition features a stand-alone co-op multiplayer mode, where you can team up with three other players picking roles among 12 different classes. Multiplayer is separate in every sense of the word; it has its own experience bars, challenges, locations and loot.

The end result is a mode I found easy to forget. Multiplayer doesn't have the dialogue and plot connections to pull you through, and it also removes the tactical control, leaving you to focus on more action-y combat that isn't satisfying for long stretches with nothing else.

It also only contains three maps at launch. While there are elements of randomness to make replaying less of a bore, it seems like an obvious hole meant to be filled by paid downloadable content.

The only really good part about Dragon Age: Inquisition's multiplayer mode is that it doesn't really take anything away from the incredible single-player experience. And with as long as the latter is, it may be months before you'd have time for multiplayer anyway.

These "war table" missions, as they're called, get at the heart of what's so great about Dragon Age: Inquisition. It moves away from the story of a single hero all on their own and toward what the greater Dragon Age lore has always been about: a vast world of complex, interconnected political groups all at each other's throats.

As the leader of the newest faction on the scene, I had to navigate tense alliances, delicate truces and powerful prejudices. As my Inquisition gained power, it became a more attractive ally and a bigger target. Each major decision I made felt like it had an impact, both immediately in the current well-being of my army and long-term on the Dragon Age world as a whole.

I won't spoil the ending, of course, but I will say that BioWare successfully carries that sense of consequence all the way to (and past) the finish line. As credits roll on Inquisition, the continent of Thedas is a noticeably different place than it was when the game started. And depending on the decisions you make, your Thedas will be distinctly different from mine.

Wrap Up:

Dragon Age: Inquisition is one of the biggest games I've ever played, and I still want more

This is the astounding scope I referred to above. It's no longer as simple as how your choices affect your small band of adventurers — though that can vary quite a lot as well. Dragon Age: Inquisition puts the fate of the world in your hands in a way that few role-playing games have done before. And even after another 80 hours devoted to it, it's a world I cannot wait to return to in whatever BioWare does next. I don't know what higher praise I could give.

Dragon Age: Inquisition was reviewed using a final retail PlayStation 4 copy of the game provided by Electronic Arts. Retail Xbox One and PC versions of the game were also tested. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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